Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 15
Sometimes, I just don't know.
I get asked thousands of start-sit questions throughout a fantasy football season. Most of the time they come from Twitter or a Facebook Live session, but I also get asked via text, Facebook Messenger, from someone in a social setting who finds out what I do for a living...the list goes on. Don't get me wrong -- I love it. I love it so much.
But I also, sometimes, just don't know.
The truth is, start-sit choices aren't always clear-cut. There are instances where you'd want to start a player for a high floor and others for a high ceiling. Maybe starting a player who allows a little team diversity in your lineup is a good call.
Or maybe the choice is just too freaking difficult to comprehend.
Many, many fantasy owners are faced with this in Week 15. A handful of top-end quarterbacks are facing tough opponents, and a lot of streaming, middling passers are in primetime spots. I'll do my best to break it down a bit for you, but in the end, evaluating and analyzing matchups may not give a finite answer.
Sometimes, I just don't know. But I'll at least do my best to help.
Start Kirk Cousins (vs. Carolina): If you're looking at a choice between Tom Brady -- who's in Denver -- and Cousins this week, I'd lean Cousins' way. He'll be at home against the Panthers, a team giving up the 10th-most fantasy points per game to opposing passers. According to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, Carolina's secondary is just average -- the matchup itself isn't difficult.
Cousins himself, though, is just as important to this equation. He hasn't ranked outside the top-12 in weekly quarterback scoring since Week 7, scoring fewer than 15.96 standard fantasy points just twice all season long. You won't find a much better floor at the quarterback position, and with a team implied total of 28 -- the second-highest on the week -- Cousins makes for an option with a good ceiling, too.
Sit Andrew Luck (at Minnesota): Full disclosure: our projections hate Andrew Luck this week. I'm not necessarily as low on him as the algorithm is, but there's certainly reason for pessimism. He'll be on the road this week against the Vikings, a team that has the second-best secondary in football, per our numbers. They've also allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks this year. Not great.
Luck, too, will potentially be without starting wideout Donte Moncrief, who didn't practice Wednesday, and the team's offensive line is an injured mess. If cornerback Xavier Rhodes can do what he's done all season long -- shut down a team's top receiver -- it could spell trouble for the Indianapolis offense.
Start Alex Smith (vs. Tennessee): Over the last eight weeks, the Tennessee secondary -- one that ranks 31st, per NEP -- has allowed 22.77 fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks. And it's not as though they've faced a start-studded group: four of their contests featured games against Cody Kessler (21.74 fantasy points scored), Blake Bortles (29.68), Matt Barkley (20.64), and Trevor Siemian (17.36).
The fear with Smith is two-fold: he's scored more than 20 points just once this year, and the Chiefs are pretty big favorites (5.5 points) at home. A run-heavy approach could end up ruining his fantasy value as a result.
But the matchup is certainly there, making Smith a top-notch streamer in Week 15.
Sit Dak Prescott (vs. Tampa Bay): Once upon a time, the Buccaneers were one of the best matchups a quarterback could find. Lately, they haven't been. Over the last three weeks, Russell Wilson, Philip Rivers, and Drew Brees have combined to score just 29.32 points against the Bucs, good for fewer than 10 fantasy points per game. Each of those quarterbacks average over 15 points per game.
How is this happening? Well, the Bucs have done a good job at limiting plays run by opposing offenses -- the Seahawks ran 63 plays against them, the Chargers 56, and the Saints 65. On the season, Seattle averages 67 plays per game, San Diego nearly 70, and New Orleans 73. Over the last five weeks, only Detroit is allowing fewer plays against in football.
Combining this with the fact that Dallas actually tries to slow games down -- they move at the slowest pace in the NFL, running a play every 30.29 seconds -- Dak makes for a high-risk, low-volume start. It certainly doesn't help that he's scored fewer than 20 fantasy points over his last two starts combined, too.
Start Tevin Coleman (vs. San Francisco): The Falcons have a ridiculous 32.5 implied team total this week, via Vegas, so you're going to want to include as many Falcons in your lineups as possible. Coleman is one guy who stands to benefit -- not only is he coming off a two-touchdown game, but a massive positive game script should force the Falcons to run the ball more. That's key against San Francisco (our last-ranked rush defense), as they've faced by far the most rushing plays this season. It's a perfect matchup for Coleman.
Sit Doug Martin (at Dallas): As I mentioned above with Prescott, the Cowboys like to run at a slow, methodical pace. This, in turn, forces opposing offenses to run fewer plays -- the Cowboys' defense has faced the seventh-fewest plays this season. But they've also seen the fewest running plays this year, as Dallas generally has positive game scripts. To put this another way, opposing offenses are throwing the ball against them, not running it. That could really hurt Martin, who's been wildly inefficient since his return from injury, running the ball 103 times for just 294 yards. Without the volume, Martin's floor is frightening.
Start Thomas Rawls (vs. Los Angeles): Game script can hurt Thomas Rawls, too, as we saw last week against the Packers, where he finished with just 12 carries despite averaging 5.58 yards per tote. Fortunately for his owners, this week features a game against the Jeff Fisher-less Rams (that may be a good thing) in Seattle. Los Angeles has the 13th-worst rush defense according to our numbers, and the Seahawks are massive 15-point favorites. With the lead, there could be lots and lots of Rawls this week.
Sit Mark Ingram (at New Orleans): The Saints' offense has been struggling over the last two weeks, and that -- along with nagging injuries -- has really hurt Ingram in fantasy football. Over the last two weeks, he's run the ball a total of 14 times while seeing 7 targets. And he's been on the field for just 33% and 30% of the Saints' snaps, respectively.
There's concern over whether or not the Saints will truly bounce back -- I'm not sure how you approach a road game in Arizona without that worry. But not only that, the Cardinals are the second-best team at stopping running backs in fantasy football, allowing just 13.8 standard points per game to the position. There's just a lot not to like with Ingram this week -- I'd do my best to stay away.
Start Kenneth Dixon (vs. Philadelphia): The Ravens have been toying with fantasy owners for some time, but it was very clear on Monday night that Kenneth Dixon is the best running back on the team, not Terrance West. Dixon ended up playing 60% of the team's snaps, which actually tied West's season-high, and he saw 11 attempts and 11 targets versus West's 2 and 4.
This week, the Ravens are strong favorites against Philadelphia. The Eagles' defense has been pounded of late, allowing 26 or more points in each of their last four games. That's resulted in start-worthy performances from C.J. Prosise, Jeremy Hill, Rob Kelley, and even James Starks.
If the Ravens continue to feed Dixon, he should come through with a nice outing.
Start Tyreek Hill (vs. Tennessee): As I mentioned above with Alex Smith, the Titans' secondary has been garbage over the second half of the season. That's especially true against opposing wide receivers -- they just allowed two top-five PPR performances to Bronco wideouts last week, which is their eighth top-seven PPR performance allowed in as many games. Though Hill played fewer snaps than both Chris Conley and Jeremy Maclin last week, his 7.29 targets per game average over the last seven games -- including 6 last week with Maclin back -- make him start-worthy in most leagues.
Sit Malcolm Mitchell (at Denver): Malcolm Mitchell hasn't scored fewer than 14 PPR points in each of his last four games, but you know the drill: you generally can't start wideouts against Denver. This season, the Broncos have surrendered just four top-20 PPR performance to receivers, with two of those players being Saints in the Superdome. And one of them was the aforementioned Hill, who had just 52 yards receiving. You should be able to do better than Mitchell this week.
Start Mike Wallace (vs. Philadelphia): Though Wallace is in a relatively inefficient passing offense, he sees fairly consistent volume, averaging 7.77 targets per game this year. That's a plus, because the matchup this week is a beautiful one.
We all know what Wallace does best -- he spreads the field. He has five receptions of 30 or more yards this year (only 18 players have more), and his yards per reception rate is 19th-best in football. The Eagles, meanwhile, get burnt by outside receivers -- this season, only Oakland has allowed more 30-plus yard receptions. (Remember last week when DeSean Jackson caught that bomb?)
Wallace is a strong flex play with upside in Week 15.
Sit Kelvin Benjamin (at Washington): Even if Kelvin Benjamin wasn't potentially going to see some Josh Norman this week, I'd have a hard time playing him. Despite a decent-enough 22.30% target market share in Carolina's offense, Benjamin has finished as WR29 or better in PPR formats just three times all year long. No thank you.
Start Alshon Jeffery (vs. Green Bay): In truth, I wouldn't have been OK with starting a wide receiver coming off of a four-game suspension with Matt Barkley throwing him passes four weeks ago. But Barkley has been fine for the pieces in the Bears' offense since Jay Cutler's season ended -- in two of Chicago's three games, he's supported a WR1, top-12 wide receiver in PPR formats. The Packers, Jeffery's opponent, have allowed the 12th-most points to the wide receiver position this season, too. It's certainly risky to play him, but there's a lot of upside for a guy fighting for a contract.
Start Jermaine Gresham (vs. New Orleans): Believe it or not, but Jermaine Gresham has now finished as the 10th-, 7th-, 14th-, and 11th-best fantasy football tight end in PPR formats over the last four weeks. And over the last three, Gresham's combined to see 23 targets. With Michael Floyd now out of the picture, John Brown dealing with sickle-cell issues, and the offensive line getting less push, Gresham becomes an intriguing check-down option for Carson Palmer against an exploitable defense this week.
Sit Coby Fleener (at Arizona): Fleener's seen a roller coaster of targets all season long, ranging from just 2 in a single game all the way up to 11. That sporadic usage makes him tough to rely on, and so does his matchup this week: Arizona continues to be fantasy football's best team at defending tight ends, allowing just 3.1 standard fantasy points per game to the position.
Start Jack Doyle (deeper play, at Minnesota): I mentioned earlier that I wasn't into Andrew Luck this week, but I do think Jack Doyle is a nice, under-the-radar streaming option. If Moncrief is sidelined, that's good news for Doyle -- when Moncrief missed time earlier in the year, Doyle averaged about three more PPR points per game. Dwayne Allen is the superior blocker of the tight end duo in Indianapolis, too, which means he may be called upon to stay on the line of scrimmage more with two offensive line starters recently deemed out for the year. Though the matchup isn't amazing, a lack of Moncrief could make Doyle a de facto second or third option in the Colts' offense. That's not a bad thing.
Start the Miami Dolphins (at New York): Last week, Bryce Petty took six sacks against San Francisco, a team that never sacked a quarterback more than three times (which happened just once) in a single game this year. Miami is a road favorite against P-P-P-Petty and the Jets this week with a weak 38-point over/under, which should provide, at the very least, a nice floor for the Dolphins' D.
Sit the San Diego Chargers (vs. Oakland): The Raiders are the toughest team to score fantasy points against as a fantasy defense, mostly because their offensive line has performed so well. This season, 8 of Oakland's 13 opponents have sacked quarterback Derek Carr zero or one time, and there have been just two instances where a fantasy defense ranked higher than 15th in weekly scoring against them. Both of those defenses were Kansas City, too. Leave San Diego on your waiver wire, please.
Other defenses to start: Buffalo Bills (vs. Cleveland), Atlanta Falcons (vs. San Francisco)
Other defenses to sit: Cincinnati Bengals (vs. Pittsburgh), Carolina Panthers (at Washington)